Many tourists know the ferry port of Split as the departure point for ferries to the famous Adriatic islands of Brač, Hvar and Šolta. But when planning our family holiday, several people advised us to spend a few days in Croatia’s second-largest city before catching the ferry to the island of Brač. I am glad we heeded their advice.

On arrival in Split, do not be misled by how busy everything seems: Split is a charming city (and UNESCO world heritage site) full of small, shady alleys and historical buildings that await exploration.

Split: charming port city

The Diocletian’s Palace constitutes the heart of Split and was more or less integrated into the city over the course of 2000 years. In a way, it has become a “city” in its own right. A stroll along Split’s cool, winding alleys is always fun. The best views are to be had from the Marjan Forest Park that is covered in shady pine trees and boasts plenty of scenic vista points. It is also home to a restaurant where, following a walk up to the park, the world’s best soft drinks are allegedly served. For those who feel the mini-hike to Marjan is too strenuous, there is Split’s six-storey bell tower as an alternative.

I have to confess: I left the bell tower climb (for which a fee is charged) to my husband and children. The temptation to sit in the shade for twenty minutes and listen to a string orchestra as they practiced for their evening performance was simply too strong. Fortunately, my brave family of climbers took some beautiful photographs from the top of the tower. Those pictures were good enough for me!

Featuring a modern and multi-facetted culinary scene, the pleasure of dining is a big part of Split: there are a slew of burger restaurants to choose from, as well as fusion cuisine that adds pizzazz to traditional Dalmatia fish dishes by complementing them with exciting (and very delicious) flavours. Our insider tip for a good breakfast or snack: the hip restaurant “BEPA” that is situated in the heart of the Old Town. Fish and seafood lovers should definitely make a point of dining at “Nostromo”: a fish market during the day, it transforms into an open-air restaurant in the evening that is widely known for its fish specialities.

Off to the island: a beach holiday on the isle of Brač

The one-hour ferry crossing to Dalmatia’s largest island is an adventure in itself. Whereas the catamaran service (only available in good weather) is not the fastest way to get to Brač (the car ferry operates from Split to Supetar on the north side of the island), it is the best option for us. Our destination is the beach resort Bol on the island’s south coast, where we will spend one week relaxing – and with just one clear objective in mind: beach, glorious beach!

And our destination is literally golden: the flagship of Brač is the “Golden Horn” (Zlatni Rat). This striking, almost sickle-shaped white-pebbled spit of land is also one the most beautiful beaches in Croatia and, understandably, a day-tourist magnet. The distinctive feature of Zlatni Rat is its shape that varies depending on the tide and current, causing the tip of the beach to constantly change direction. Situated about 2 miles (3 km) from Bol, getting to Zlatni Rat beach involves a lovely walk along a shaded alley that is lined with a host of market and ice cream stalls. A small tourist train also takes passengers to the beach, as do the waiting water taxis. That said, there is in fact a real “risk” of not making it to Zlatni Rat, opting instead to stay put on one of the numerous small beaches along the way.

Beach with great assets

Beach life on the island of Brač has many great assets, including a good infrastructure with toilets, showers, restaurants and snack bars that serve corn on the cob, fruit, waffles and delicious smoothies. There is also an abundant choice of water sports for oodles of fun and action to suit the whole family. An insider recommendation from an island resident: treat yourself to a revitalising massage in the pine tree forest!

Amazingly, despite the large number of locals and tourists on Zlatni Rat beach in midsummer, visitors easily spread out. This is due to its unique geographical location and shape. Beachgoers never have to wedge their way through crowds of people to get to the water. And when the squally Bora (north wind) blows, there is even more space to breathe on Zlatni Rat beach, albeit the need to firmly attach parasols to the ground!

Water lovers and beach connoisseurs

With sailing, swimming, snorkelling, wind- and kitesurfing on offer, the world is an oyster for water worshippers in Bol – and on Zlatni Rat. Other activities include fishing boat excursions and day trips to the islands nearby (Hvar is particularly appealing), as well as kayaking to some of the remote and beautiful coves around Bol. With such an ample choice of leisure and recreational activities to suit families with children of all ages, there is truly no risk of getting bored in this idyllic corner of the world.

As quasi Bol experts, we can wholeheartedly say that the large Zlatni Rat promontory with its infrastructure and shady pine forests is fabulously beautiful. But, surprisingly, our hearts were stolen by a little beach near the “Ribarska kućica” fish restaurant at the eastern end of town. This insider tip is situated away from the hustle and bustle. Getting there involves walking past the lovely old fishing harbour and the tempting option of some local red wine-tasting in the “Stina Winery”, as well as the occasional stop to enjoy an impromptu open-air concert.

I could tell you more about the sights and attractions of the lovely island of Brač that encompasses an area of roughly 150 square miles (~ 400 sq. km.): the capital of Supetar on the north side of the island, the Dominican monastery on the Glavica peninsula near Bol (the monastery features an interesting collection of local underwater archaeological finds) or the dragon cave of Murcia that is steeped in myth. But here’s the truth: our ten days in Bol were largely confined, by choice, to our charming holiday flat on a hill (Airbnb is surprisingly widespread in this part of the world), the town of Bol with its many restaurants and bars, and our favourite beaches. In other words: we relished Bol as an opportunity to relax.

Our most important piece of advice for a beach holiday in Croatia: do not let vanity stop you from wearing aquatic footwear! Though far from sexy, these admittedly often hideous plastic pseudo sneakers are a minor stylistic sin compared to the pain of removing a sea urchin spine from the sole of one’s foot!

Despite (or because of?) aquatic shoes, Bol stole my heart. It did so quietly and without fanfare. Anyone who loves the sea and is up for a tranquil beach holiday in a place full of warm-hearted and open-minded people should not miss the chance to experience this Adriatic gem. As for us, we will most certainly be back!

Text: Steffi Hidber